Trees grow. This is not news to most of us of course—but for airports, this simple truth can have a significant impact on operations. The fact is, unless an airport is going to clear every single tree extending several miles around the airport, trees are going to grow in areas that need to be clear. And as technological advances lead to larger approach areas and even an enhanced ability to detail what constitutes an obstruction, keeping approaches clear of vegetation has gained eminence for many airports.
When it comes to clearing approaches, many considerations are needed. Clearance requirements can vary significantly. An airport may need to address state licensing requirements or the clearance surfaces for Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI), not to mention the FAR Part 77 Imaginary Surfaces and those associated with Terminal Instrument Procedures (TERPs). Ideally, all of these surfaces should be clear of obstructions, including vegetation.
In addition, many of these trees are not located on airport-owned property, so the airport will need to obtain the rights to address the trees. This can take months or even years, and can be very costly. A decision also must be made on whether or not to fully remove the problem-tree(s). Obviously, full removal means that specific tree won’t be a concern again; however, sometimes this isn’t viable, and pruning invariably creates a long-term maintenance issue. Complicating this process further, environmental concerns can dictate when or how trees can be removed.
While most airports struggle with the ongoing battle of tree growth, it can seem easy to just put it off until a later date. However, the process of clearing trees from the areas that need to be cleared can potentially take a lot of effort and quite a chunk of time. You don’t want to be in a position where the FAA is giving you 30-days to resolve a problem and risk losing your approach. It’s a good idea to deal with this issue before you absolutely have to. Developing and consistently implementing an obstruction management plan, and routinely evaluating the airport approaches can help your airport be proactive.
Fellow industry colleague Paul McDonnell and I are sharing how to best accomplish this in an upcoming ACC webinar: Understanding Airport Obstruction Data, Evaluation, and Management on January 21, 2021. Hope to see you there!